Trading Thoughts Blog


Doing Business in Australia: Culture, Mentality, and Etiquette

Original post from August 2019 
Updated December 2022

The Commonwealth of Australia, the world’s smallest continent and largest island, is a diverse country with vast iconic natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Outback, and heavily concentrated cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Being a newly established country in 1901, it was easy for the country to develop its own cultural personality. Although the culture can be described as Western with indigenous influences, foreigners may be surprised by the quirks and personal touches that Australians have made over time to the standards of their Western lifestyle.

A significant contributor to Western culture is the multinational and famed sport of rugby. Although Australia is well-known for being very much involved in competing internationally in rugby, they are famous for playing their own version as well, Australian football. Australian football can be described as a mixture of rugby, soccer, and American football, with an oval-shaped field and goalposts that resemble those of American football. To score points, players kick the ball through the set of goalposts that are on either end of the field. One of the most intriguing differences in this sport is that the players can pass to their teammates by kicking the ball or punching it with their palms, but they cannot throw it. Additionally, although Australian football is a contact sport, they do not wear any padding, only a jersey uniform.  Australian football is a very entertaining and popular sport to watch. For this reason, it is a notable contributor to the country’s economy. The Australian Football League (AFL) reported revenue of AUD$480 million in 2015.

Economically, Australia is revered as the wealthiest (per adult) country in the world, with a decently low poverty rate of 13.2% as of 2018. The United States plays a particularly important role in the economy of Australia, being that it remains their largest two-way trading partner in goods and services. This is a result of the Australian-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) that was established in 2005. The passing of this agreement has since increased the trade flow by 91%.

As a result of AUSFTA, there is no surprise that American businesses seek to further strengthen the trade relationship between the two countries. Business opportunities in Australia are of wide variety and significance. However, the quirky culture can often be intimidating for business persons from other countries. There are three key aspects to understand that will enhance a business trip to Australia by providing a deeper appreciation of the country: the business culture, mentality, and etiquette.

Australian Business Culture

Meetings in Australia can seem different from those typically held in the United States. To start, they are considerably more laid back. It is typical for Australian business persons to use colorful language (curse words) in meetings, as well as, crack jokes to lighten the mood. Additionally, it is common to be addressed by only your first name, and it is expected that you do the same. Even though it may not seem like it, Australians do take these business affairs seriously. Therefore, it is important to dress the part and be prepared for your meeting. If you are presenting a proposition or sitting as a chairman, it is expected that you be punctual and show up to the meeting a few minutes early. Also, be sure to chat about things like the weather or sports to relax the atmosphere.

Modesty and Understanding

A key factor in the business culture of Australia is modesty. Australians are very modest about their job position; it is very unattractive to them when a foreigner emphasizes their title and the greatness of their business. For this reason, it is recommended to not use an aggressive sales technique to persuade a potential partner, as most of the time it will not work. Avoid overselling your company, or coming off as self-important. It is more persuasive if the facts are laid out for them with a friendly attitude. But even if you do execute your sale in this way, they still may clearly express that they are not interested; Australian business persons are known to be very blunt and honest when considering a business contract. It is important to prepare for a straightforward rejection. Of course, this response will not be rude, but rather, more diplomatic. Nevertheless, it may take longer than expected to receive this response. This is because businesses in Australia value a team environment. The top management of a corporation will most likely consult their subordinates before deciding. No matter your position in the company, Australian businesses are very considerate of everyone’s opinion and expect that it be shared. Patience and understanding are key in these situations.

Business Etiquette in Australia

Gifts are not expected at business interactions but are greatly appreciated when given at the correct time. In Australia, it is commonly understood as bribing when a person brings a gift to a meeting before the close of a deal. If you decide to give a gift, simply have one prepared if a close or agreement arises. This will come off as congratulations and will be admired. Additionally, if invited out to dinner or drinks, do not begin to discuss business unless the counterpart does so. It can be seen as rude, or pushy if a business person attempts to bring a pitch to the table because it can cause stress and create a serious atmosphere.

If you are planning a trip to Australia for business purposes, it is recommended to understand the unique business culture, mentality, and etiquette of the country. A comprehensive education of these elements of their lifestyle will allow more of a relationship and connection to develop between two business persons of different backgrounds. And, if you have some free time in Australia, attempt to catch an Australian football game - you will not be disappointed.

Learn More

Learn more about the country, trade, and culture of Australia by registering for the Business Travelers Series: Navigating Australia on February 15, 2023 from 9am - 10am EST. This virtual event is generously sponsored by The  Gerald R. Ford International Airport  and  Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Interested in Traveling to Australia? 
Contact the Michigan Economic Development Corporation today to learn about the Michigan and Pennsylvania co-hosted trade mission to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia with an option to visit New Zealand

MI-STEP Funding From MEDC

Did you know that qualifying Michigan companies have the opportunity to receive STEP funds for International Trade Missions and Trade Shows like this one?

To find out if your company is eligible new companies must complete and submit an online intake form here. Existing clients can contact your regional international trade manager. Funds will be approved for specific and measurable export initiatives. Funds for the MI-STEP program are subject to availability. Learn more about the MI-STEP program here.

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About the Contributor

Mackenzie was an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University and a student assistant at the Grand Valley State University’s Van Andel Global Trade Center. She majored in International Business and Finance while minoring in Spanish.

January 5, 2023

Holiday Celebrations Around the World

By Benjamin David 
Originally posted December 19, 2018

The holiday season is here again! GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center would like to celebrate with you by sharing some of the holidays and festivals you can find around the world this month.

Christmas

Every year, millions of people celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th. The celebration of Christmas began in the Roman Empire, though methods of celebration vary greatly around the world. In the West, for example, Christmas trees are popular; the tradition started in Strasbourg, Germany (now part of France) where fir trees were decorated with apples. In Eritrea, neighborhoods will purchase cows and have a community feast together. It is popular for Japanese families to enjoy their Christmas meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken, following an ad campaign in the 1970s. The Icelandic Yuletide Lads, mischievous little elves who climb down the mountains into towns, play tricks and leave children presents; while, it is a popular tradition to roller-skate to church for the weeks leading up to the 25th in Venezuela. There are many more weird and wonderful international traditions like these.

St. Nicholas Day

Celebrated every year on either December 5th or 6thSt. Nicholas day celebrates…St. Nick! St. Nicholas was the bishop of the city of Myra during the 4th century who was renowned for his generosity. Popular during the Middle Ages, St. Nicholas fell somewhat into obscurity after the Protestant Reformation. The Dutch, however, continued to celebrate “Sinterklaas”, as they refer to St. Nick. Every year on his feast day, Sinterklaas would give candy to all the good children of the Netherlands, and provide the bad ones with coal, as well as potatoes and sticks.

From the Netherlands, Sinterklaas was celebrated in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, where the tradition remained after the British acquired the port city and renamed it New York. There, “Sinterklaas” became “Santa Claus” and was merged into Christmas celebrations. Back in Europe, St. Nicholas Day remains popular in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as parts of Germany France, and Italy. Typically, on the night before St. Nicholas Day, children place a shoe or a boot in front of the fireplace. In the morning, they wake up and discover that St. Nicholas has left them a shoe full of candy and cookies (or potatoes). In Bari, Italy, where St. Nicholas is buried, the day is accompanied by gift-giving and a parade.

Wigilia

On Christmas Eve, families of Polish descent will hold Wigilia, a large feast celebrating the birth of Jesus. Typically, families will spend the days prior to preparing for the feast, comprised of either seven, nine, or eleven courses. Before sitting down, everyone breaks a piece of bread from a traditional wafer and wishes for health, wealth, and happiness. It’s a tradition that an odd number of people cannot be sitting at the table at any point during the meal, and that an extra place at the table is set for Jesus. Meals are meatless except for fish, and traditional Polish dishes such as pierogi and babka are served.

Boxing Day

Every December 26th, Boxing Day comes around. Although, if the 26th falls on a weekend, the following Monday will be the day of celebration. Boxing Day is popular in the United Kingdom, as well as in Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Originally, Boxing Day was the day that the wealthy and the royals would give gifts to their servants and tradespeople, as well as a general day of charity to the poor. Today, Boxing Day is marked by bonuses given to employees and sporting events such as horse races and rugby matches. It is also common to enjoy a second dinner of leftovers made from the big Christmas meal.

Hanukkah

For eight days starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev (which began on December 2nd in 2018), Jewish communities celebrate Hanukkah. This is the celebration of the rededication of a Jewish temple in 165 BCE after it was desecrated by an invading army. The most well-known Hanukkah tradition is the lighting of the Menorah, which represents the story of “the Oil in the Temple”. As the story goes, on the first night after the desecration of the temple, there was only enough oil left to light the sacred menorah for a single day. This small amount of oil, however, lasted for eight days, the perfect amount of time for more consecrated oil to be brought to the temple and keep the Menorah lit.

In Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated with parties and songs, as well as a few particularly unique traditions. Every Hanukkah, the relay from Modi’in takes place, in which runners carrying torches run from Modi’in to the Western Wall, the only part of the original temple that still stands. Many different foods are eaten during Hanukkah such as Latkes and sufganiyot. Children are also given gifts and chocolate coins and spin the dreidel.

Kwanzaa

Searching for ways to bring the African American community together after the Walt Riots in Los Angeles in 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage and culture, primarily recognized in the United States, but does have observers around the world. Celebrated from December 26th until January 1st, Kwanzaa focuses on African tradition and values known as the seven principals. These are unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The kinara is a traditional candleholder with seven candles, colored red, green, and black, which represent the seven principals. The candles are lit, and the family joins in a discussion over the theme for that day. On December 31st, families hold a feast called a karamu, and often wear traditional African clothing.

St. Lucia Day

St. Lucia Day is a Scandinavian holiday celebrated in Norway and Sweden, as well as in Norwegian and Swedish speaking communities abroad. Honoring St. Lucia, a Christian martyr, the day is intended to usher in light in a time of the year where, depending on how far north you are, the sun may never rise. During the celebration, a family will dress one of their daughters in white, and she will serve coffee and baked goods to her family and guests.

Jonkonnu Festival

The Jonkonnu Festival is a Caribbean festival celebrated on December 26th. Jonkonnu is a specific kind of dance created to blend traditional African and English dance that originated among slaves in the Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Kitts & Nevis. Dancers and musicians wearing homemade costumes with traditional African and English imagery parade to public areas and hold community dances. Today, it’s also more common for communities to hold dance and costume competitions on that day.

No matter how you celebrate, GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center hopes that your holiday season is filled with cheer!

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About the Contributor

Benjamin David was an undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University and a Student Assistant at Van Andel Global Trade Center. He was an International Relations and Economics major and a German minor. He plans to go to law school after graduation and hopes he may eventually work at the U.S. State Department. Ben loves discussing cars, airplanes, and languages.

December 19, 2022

Reaching Global Markets: A Small Business Guide to Funding Exports

How can small businesses grow their customer base and increase profitability? Export!

When local markets are facing tough times or simply not bringing in enough revenue, the next step in expanding a small business and increasing revenue is to start exporting goods to access new global markets.

Common Concerns about Exporting

Exporting, however, may seem quite daunting and expensive to the inexperienced individual. Fortunately, there are several financial resources, mentors, and consultants available for small businesses to utilize to create an export strategy and set up export operations unique to their business needs.

Setting up and maintaining export operations does require an investment of both time and money, but with 95% of the world’s consumers outside of the U.S., it has the potential to turn into a profitable investment. If traditional bank financing doesn’t fit your business needs, there are different types of loan programs that help in setting up and/or maintaining export plans and provide alternatives to traditional loan options to fund export endeavors.

Export Programs

Programs funded through the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) that small businesses should be aware of include: 

SBA loans are provided through banks, but SBA guarantees a substantial portion of the loan – up to 90% – making it more likely to get accepted than a traditional, non-SBA-backed loan.

State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)

One of the most easily accessible financial assistance options available for exporting is the STEP program.

The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is a completely different category than the other loan program since technically it’s not a loan at all. Though the money given to the state government is awarded by SBA, it is ultimately the individual state’s economic development department that distributes these funds– no repayment is required.

State-level STEP assistance helps small businesses:

  • Learn how to export
  • Participate in foreign trade missions and trade shows
  • Obtain services to support foreign market entry
  • Develop websites to attract foreign buyers
  • Design international marketing products or campaigns

Roughly 46 of the 50 states were awarded STEP funds, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgie, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Michigan’s STEP program, MI-STEP, administered by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, offers up to $15,000 in export assistance that covers up to 75% of export eligible expenses. For more information on MI-STEP, check out our blog article Michigan Small Businesses Are Missing Out on Free Money: Why You Should Take Advantage of MI-STEP .

Coverage rates and total assistance varies by state, check your state’s STEPpolicy for exact export assistance information.

International Trade Loan Program

The most expansive of these would be the International Trade Loan Program. Companies can be approved to borrow a maximum of $5 million through this program with a processing time of roughly 5 - 10 business days.

These loans are available to help small businesses enter international markets and compete with businesses already present in the market. It works by combining fixed assets, working capital financing, and debt refinancing for the maximum amount of assistance.

Export Working Capital Program

The Export Working Capital Program is similar to the International Trade Loan Program in that there is a $5 million maximum borrowing limit and 5 - 10 day processing time, but the purpose is slightly different.

People applying for this loan already have a finalized sale or export contract in hand and just need the extra funds to seal the deal. This venture is ultimately a bit less risky than going into a market blind – like the prior program – which makes the approval process easier.

Export Express Loan Program

The Export Express Loan Program allows small businesses to get loans accepted within 36 hours with the trade-off of only being able to borrow $500,000 or less.

The reason turnaround time is so quick is that Export Express lenders can directly underwrite a loan without SBA prior approval.

Meet Your Export Mentors

For businesses interested in learning how to export their goods and explore funding opportunities and resources available for this endeavor, GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center along with state and federal partners from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)Michigan West Coast Chamber of CommerceU.S. Department of Commerce - Grand RapidsMichigan Small Business Development Center, Export-Import Bank of the United States, Networks Northwest, U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), and more, are offering four opportunities to join us for our New to Export Workshops throughout the state of Michigan in 2023, visit our event page for dates and details !

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Natalie Bremmer is a Student Assistant at GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center . She is a Junior currently pursuing a Bachelor in Business Administration degree in Finance, Human Resource Management, and General Management at Grand Valley State University. She enjoys lifting weights, getting lost in a good video game, spending time with friends, and going on long hikes.

December 14, 2022

A Summer of Sanctions: Things to Consider Before doing Business with Russia in 2022

By: Natalie Bremmer

United States relations with Russia have never been the best, but Russian threats and advancements into Ukrainian territory have put extreme tensions on the minor singular ounce of stability that was once present.

In the following months, pre-to-current invasion, the U.S. worked tirelessly amongst themselves and in collaboration with other countries to impose a variety of sanctions on Russia in an effort to slow this ruthless attack.

Check out the timeline of events below to get up-to-date on what has been going on with Russia.

February

The first, most notable event in this timeline of sanctions started on February 21, 2022, where, within pro-Russian Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika (DNR) and Luhanskaya Narodnaya Respublika (LNR) regions of Ukraine, new investments, trade, and financing from U.S. personnel to this region had been stopped; the reason being that there were Russian forces already in these areas and the Russian government kept spreading false information of Ukrainian aggression towards them.

Not even three days later, on February 24, 2022, Russia publicly invaded Ukraine. Within this same day, the U.S. passed a series of sanctions including:

  • Freezing several Russian banks and rejecting any future transactions; VTB Banks and Public Joint Stock Company Sberbank of Russia to name a few
  • Putting financial limitations on several Russian elites, oligarchs, and private entities
  • Limitations or complete bans on roughly 24 Belarusian people and entities; most banks, defense, and security suppliers, and defense officials
  • Restrictions on the export of semiconductors, computers, lasers, and other technologies to Russia

Two days later, on February 26, 2022, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, and Germany all imposed a sanction removing select Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) program to limit their access to reserves. In addition to this, they also aimed to stop key Russian entities from getting citizenship in other countries to avoid already imposed sanctions.

March

March consisted of a flurry of several more sanctions. One of the most notable ones was banning the importation of Russian oil, coal, and liquified natural gas which was announced on March 8, 2022.

Other relevant sanctions included travel bans going into Russia, banning transactions between the different businesses within the defense, marine, aerospace, and electronics sectors in Russia and Belarus to United States entities, restricting more than 300 high-class and powerful Russian figures, and solidifying financial sanctions against Russia that were already put in place in addition to some new ones.

During this same month, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, and Germany reconvened in two separate meetings to announce increased import tariffs on Russia, eliminating their World Trade Organization membership benefits, and denying them access to World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to eliminate their borrowing capabilities.

April

Sanctions introduced in April  further separated Russia from the most profitable sectors within the U.S., including:

  • Russian darknet and ransomware entities; Hydra and Garantex
  • Alrosa, the largest Russian diamond mining company
  • Banning Russian and Russian-affiliated vessels from entering U.S. waters
  • Russian virtual currency mining companies; Transkapitalbank, Bitriver, Tsargrad, and more
  • Temporary denial orders towards Russian aircraft carriers Aeroflot, Azur Air, and UTair for evading previous sanctions

However, one of the most notable events during this month was the two laws President Biden passed on April 8, 2022.

The first, named “Ending Importation of Russian Oil Act”, bans the importation of any energy-related products classified under Chapter 27 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule from the Russian Federation. This law also strictly prohibits investments in anything that would aid Russia in the takeover of Ukraine.

It is, however, written into this law that the acting president would be able to lift this ban after 90 days of submitting a certification to Congress.

The second law, titled “Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act”, removed both Russia and Belarus from the ‘Normal Trade Relations’ – Column 1 – of the Harmonized Trade Schedule and placed them in Column 2 with much higher rates than Normal Trade Relation countries.

The majority of the written portion of this law was explaining their reasoning for the column shift; essentially how the United States and Ukraine are both members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), how Russia was also part of the World Trade Organization at the beginning of the invasion, and then how not only did Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, denied Ukrainians of their right to independence and sovereignty but also continues to threaten international relations and hampers Ukraine’s ability to participate in the World Trade Organization. Since Belarus has been providing very public support to Russia during this time, they were also moved to Column 2.

On January 1, 2024, Russia and Belarus are scheduled to be reclassified under Column 1 and once again receive Normal Trade Relations treatment.

Similar to the first law, the president can submit a proclamation to move both Russia and Belarus back to Column 1 rates which would take place 90 days after the submission date and would last no longer than one year. 

May

The passing of sanctions in May slowed significantly compared to March and April, but a few notable events took place regardless.

On May 8, 2022, the Leaders of The Group of Seven – United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, Italy, and Germany – gathered in Berlin with the president of Ukraine and agreed on five more key elements to put into effect as new or improved sanctions to cripple the Russian war effort.

The biggest driving point was a permanent phasing out of dependence on Russian energy, including oil.

The other decrees included:

  • continuing with sanctions against Russian banks
  • banning the export of key services to Russia that could help with war efforts
  • fight Russian propaganda by limiting the revenue private companies can transfer to Russia and their affiliates, and
  • continue with sanctions against the extremely wealthy and all of their family members that support President Putin in this conflict

On May 9, 2022, more strict restrictions were added to existing sanctions (enacted on March 3, 2022) on American exported goods – mostly wood products and construction machinery – that were originally meant to slow down Russia’s oil production but were slightly repurposed to stop the replenishment of war materials.

On the same day, the tariffs on Ukrainian steel that were put in place by ex-President Trump were temporarily lifted for one year.

Closer to the end of the month, May 24, 2022, the U.S. Treasury blocks Russian entities from paying debts back to bondholders or, in more generous cases, increased interest by as much as 50% from their original totals.

June

June consisted mostly of fine-tuning sanctions that were already imposed in prior months.

June 2, 2022, was quite an eventful day– including adding 71 more entities to the sanction list which included mostly ‘military end-users,’ freezing more assets stored around the globe of wealthy and influential Russian individuals, and adding more export controls to limit items used for Russian military purposes, and further explaining U.S. export controls to allies with a readout by Deputy Secretary Don Graves in Belgium.

Later on June 15, 2022, the U.S. government targeted a Russian extremist group self-titled the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), formerly classified as a terrorist group in April of 2020, and significantly limited their ability to move funds by sanctioning their two most prominent leaders.

The rest of that month consisted of more Temporary Denial Orders on airlines that continued to violate travel sanctions, addressing evasion attempts on Russian and Belarusian fronts to skirt around financial sanctions, and creating even stricter access to companies attempting to export military supplies and other technologies to Russia.

To learn more about the sanctions imposed on Russia and how that could affect your business, contact GVSU's Van Andel Global Trade Center and sign up for our 5th Annual Summer Summit taking place on August 3, 2022, at the GVSU Alumni House.

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Natalie Bremmer is a Student Assistant at   GVSU’s Van Andel Global Trade Center . She is a Junior currently pursuing undergraduate degrees in Finance and Human Resource Management at Grand Valley State University. She enjoys lifting weights, getting lost in a good video game, spending time with friends, and going on long hikes.

July 14, 2022




Page last modified December 8, 2021